Reflections on India – Courage in the Slums of Chennai
It has been a week that I have been home now. Time taken to resettle and find my feet again, back to the everyday, the school runs, meals to prepare, family, work, kids taxi service. Although I am back doing my regular routine, with the people I love and cherish, I am forever changed. I am not the same. India you have opened my eyes, you have challenged me, excited me, torn me apart and put me back to together again.
The noise and chaos of that first step on Indian soil was to say the least overwhelming. The heat and humidity clothed me like a blanket as soon as I walked through the arrival gates and out into the open. People, colour and noise. The cacophony of sound spinning around me like a gushing whirlwind. Into the car we piled and started our journey through the streets of Chennai to our hotel. Traffic everywhere, two marked lanes, but four lanes of traffic, families on motorbikes, car horns beeping… does this city ever sleep? What have I done, what am I doing here. So many people asleep on the pavement as we drive past them in relative airconditioned comfort. This is like nothing I have ever experienced, every one of my senses is heightened. I am completely disorientated and the overwhelm is caving in on me. I knew I would see this, I knew this was why I was in India, but the actual reality of it took my heart, mind, and spirit a while to settle. To reconcile that these are people in our world, experiencing so much poverty, it is still so surreal. Finally, our Hotel. Sleep please find me.
As we prepared for our first day in the slums, I was apprehensive about what we were going to find and if my heart was my ready. As we entered the slums the reality of poverty hits. The one-room shanties that people call home. Whole families in one cramped space, no furniture, no beds, no toilets or showers. As we approach there is so much interest in us. Who are we, why are we there? “Please”, my mind cries out, “we are no different to you, we are just people like you. We are here for you, we are here because we care”. I had no idea at this stage how much in my desire to share love and hope, would I be so incredibly impacted.
The first family we met was the Kumar’s. A year ago, they lived on the pavement. Husband, wife and two young boys. No shelter, no safety, open to the elements, no way forward. Today they come to greet us. Faces beaming, proud of how far they have come. Their two sons emerge, washed, clean uniforms, shining polished shoes (if only my boys’ shoes were this well cared for!). They are ready for school. The first in their family to be literate. As we went further into the slum, I am greeted by such amazing colour, beautiful women and children. Hope. Hope is the greatest impression I received. So many stories, just like the Kumar family. From the pavement, to the slum, to security, education, small businesses. Lives are being changed, the future is hopeful. These families have courage that I have not had the privilege to encounter before.
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